NIH Has Little to Celebrate on 1st Anniversary of Its Open-Access Policy, but Changes May Be on Way, from the Chronicle

The public-access policy of the National Institutes of Health marked its first anniversary last week, and all involved in the debate agree that it has failed to create free online access to the biomedical literature.

Not to say I told you so, but I told you so. Well, I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I mean, the NIH’s policy had no enforcement teeth, so what motivation is there for scholars to take any time at all to submit a publication? Clearly, none. What I don’t understand is why this is such a big deal. Ok, ok, yes, it’s cutting into publisher’s profits on reprints. Maybe; that’s an empirical question. But even if we concede that it does, I still don’t understand why it’s a big deal. The NSF Grant General Conditions; section 20, Publications; subsection c, Copies for NSF states that:

The grantee is responsible for assuring that the cognizant NSF Program Officer is provided access to, either electronically or in paper form, a copy of every publication of material based on or developed under this award, clearly labeled with the award number and other appropriate identifying information, promptly after publication.

So if you get NSF funding you already have to submit a copy to a government agency. Of course, I don’t know what then happens to these publications. I’m thinking now that I may try to request one just to see if they give away or sell copies. Also, government publications are available for free from your local depository library. Of course the argument has been made before that the government and the public is paying for research twice. But why hasn’t anyone made the argument that if research is funded by a government agency, then any publication that come out of that research is a government publication?